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09/10/2018 10:27 am ET Updated Sep 10, 2018

Herald Sun Cartoonist Defends Racist, Sexist Serena Williams Cartoon

Mark Knight's caricature of Williams depicts her with a smashed racket and a pacifier following her U.S. Open loss.

An Australian cartoonist is standing by his cartoon of Serena Williams that perpetuates the racist and sexist “angry black woman” trope.

Mark Knight, the editorial cartoonist for the Herald Sun in Melbourne, dismissed social media criticism of his drawing, which mocks the tennis legend after her loss to Naomi Osaka at Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s final.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday evening, Knight said that, although he was “upset that people are offended,” he wouldn’t be taking the cartoon down. 

“When I watched the U.S. Open, I was sitting there like everybody else, and I saw the world No. 1 tennis player have a huge hissy fit and spit the dummy,” he said. “That’s what the cartoon is about, her poor behavior on the court. Nothing to do with gender or racism at all.”

In the cartoon, Williams is depicted with an exaggerated face and body, jumping on her smashed racket with a pacifier nearby. In the background, a blond opponent representing Osaka faces a chair umpire who pleads: “Can you just let her win?”

“I think what’s happening here is people are just making stuff up. The cartoon was just about Serena on the day having a tantrum. That’s basically it,” Knight said. 

When asked about the criticism of his depiction of Osaka, Knight again said that “people are making up stuff that is just not true.”

“I depicted her as I saw her in photographs at the U.S. Open,” he said. 

In an earlier attempt to prove that his sketch was not racist or sexist, Knight posted a previous cartoon about male player Nick Kyrgios receiving a “pep talk” after appearing “sulky” during the tournament. That cartoon hardly helps his claims of gender neutrality, however: It shows a male tennis official speaking to Kyrgios, but the official in the next panel, holding Kyrgios by the ear, is a woman.

Knight, whose past cartoons have also been skewered as racist and sexist, did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for further comment. However, the Herald Sun issued a statement saying that he had the publication’s full backing. 

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that,” editor Damon Johnston said. “It had nothing to do with gender or race.”

Critics noted that Knight’s cartoon of Kyrgios actually reinforces the point that men are treated differently than women ― an argument Williams made after she was fined $17,000 for three highly criticized code violations during Saturday’s U.S. Open final.

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos docked the 23-time Grand Slam champion for receiving coaching during the match. She then broke a racket and berated him, resulting in two more code violations. Williams, who has long spoken out about facing racism and sexism as a black woman in the public eye, noted that male players who lose their tempers on court have not always been penalized as harshly. Tennis legend Billie Jean King agreed.

There’s a long history of sexism in tennis, including unequal pay for women and scrutiny of their appearance and fashion choices.

Last month, officials at the French Open banned Williams from wearing a bodysuit in future tournaments.

Less than two weeks ago, in an earlier U.S. Open round, French player Alizé Cornet received a code violation for changing her shirt on the court after realizing it was backward, even though male players routinely change their shirts.

The United States Tennis Association, which organizes the tournament, later apologized to Cornet and clarified its policy to reflect that women can also change their shirts on court.

Later on Monday, the National Association of Black Journalists denounced Knight’s cartoon, calling it “repugnant on many levels.”

“The Sept. 10 cartoon not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,” it said in a statement. “The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of color at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”

David Barden contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with Knight’s statement in Australia.

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